By Nora Dempsey and Megan L. Kuhn
This spring, as tech giants such as Uber and Yelp canceled in-person summer internships due to Covid-19, the media and private sector companies began contacting the Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) team for advice on how to move forward. The Bureau of Information Resources Management’s eDiplomacy’s Diplomatic Innovation Division has long been proud of developing the idea of VSFS, which in its decade of existence has become the largest virtual internship in the world, relied upon by more than 50 federal agencies.
The federal government is usually faulted for being behind the curve, yet the Department of State was suddenly earning shout-outs as a virtual visionary. Those federal mentors familiar with VSFS urged the program to make its first-ever foray into summer internships. VSFS stepped in and converted 200 canceled in-person student internships into virtual ones.
The program created a social media campaign using the hashtag, #NowMoreThanEver, urging every agency and bureau to build its virtual capacity. It was no surprise to the team that the 2020 VSFS program has had a record number of projects, internships, and student applicants.
“I have learned so much through my internship with the Bureau of Legislative Affairs and have been able to find where I want my full-time career to take me,” said Quinn Fox, a senior at American University and recent virtual intern whose internship was converted from in-person due to the pandemic. “I will forever be thankful for this opportunity to see diplomacy at work firsthand and for all the connections I have been able to make.”
Erick Boone, a student at Howard University, interned virtually for a VSFS education and cultural affairs project. He agreed that the program has certain benefits.
“Networking is still possible online; although it is in a different format, I think it’s certainly possible. You just have to be a bit more deliberate about making those networks and connections,” he said.
Among the projects for the 2020-2021 academic year are dozens focused on society’s collective understanding of, and response to, the global pandemic. Students are working with the Department and USAID to analyze and identify potential impacts of the virus on the Egyptian economy; on persons with disabilities in Botswana; and on Chinese tourism in the United States. Student eInterns will support wellness programs in tribal communities for the Indian Health Service and will increase Veterans Affairs telehealth services.
Virtual interns are essential to keeping up with emerging technologies and perhaps, even more importantly, are helping to create a more inclusive and diverse workforce. For more information on the VSFS, visit their website here or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, and Instagram.
Nora Dempsey is the senior advisor for innovation in the Office of eDiplomacy and the interim director of the Virtual Student Federal Service. Megan L. Kuhn is a program analyst and head of student outreach for the Virtual Student Federal Service.